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Katie Randall's blog

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Shifting Standards of Care and Right Relationships

 Back in October I posted a paper on this site exploring the relation between the medicalization of disability (as seen in Eli Claire's Exile & Pride) and the pathologization of transsexuality (as seen in Rachel Ann Heath’s The Praeger Handbook of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset.

(read the full paper here: /exchange/node/11075 )

In The Praeger Handbook of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset a lot of Heath's discussion of the medicalization of disability revolved around the standards of care (SOC), standards written by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health to guide doctors with transsexual patients. The Praeger Handbook was published in 2006 and critiqued the 6th edition of the SOC, published in 2001. It was this critique that I incorporated into my own work.

But right around the same time that I posted my thoughts, something happened that I didn’t know about until later. A new and revised SOC was published.

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Communal clarity: Making Sense of Media

Communal Clarity

Making Sense of Media


About Communal Clarity:

     We are bombarded with hundreds of media images each day. This overload of information is something universally experienced in industrialized countries, and it can be paralyzing. How many of us are taught to evaluate these messages? And once we make our evaluations, what then?

     According to the Center for Media Literacy, media literacy is “the ability to communicate competently in all media forms as well as to access, understand, analyze, evaluate and participate with powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture” (read more at Different organizations are working hard to promote media literacy education in schools, and the mission to teach as many individuals as possible these tools of analysis is a vital one.

     But this website is founded on the premise that media literacy is not an individual matter. Individuals can and should learn to analyze media messages for themselves, but this is not an end in itself. Because media messages are received in a different way by everyone, they can't be fully understood alone. While media literacy may be a skill set, media analysis is always a conversation.

     I want to create an online space for these conversations, and Communal Clarity is the result.

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A different kind of lecture

The lecture last night was intense and, for me, different from other lectures I've attended at Bryn Mawr. Partly it was the sheer scale of it and the buildup beforehand: while I'm sure there were some audience members only there for a class, there was a collective excitement that you just don't usually feel in an academic setting. The only event I can think of that came close was the lecture by Angela Davis. So first, there was a difference in the audience.

Then there was the difference in the speaker. The biggest difference, and the one I talked about with some friends afterwards, was that Judith Butler was there as an academic and theorist but taking a strong political stance. How often have we seen that? I can tell you how often I've heard it: never. Not once. I've occasionally had a professor take up political issues in the classroom, but not often. And never in a way that tied them so thoroughly to theory. I'd never heard a lecture that was both very academic and intensely political-- they tend to be one or the other.  I'd never seen theory and practice so thoroughly entangled (to borrow Barad's term, which I may or may not thoroughly understand. But it seems right here).

Then there were the ideas themselves. Other people have complained about how hard it was to take notes with hardly any light, but I did it anyway because I knew that otherwise there was no way I'd be able to remember even half of what was brought up. I can even read most of what I wrote.

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Presenting on Intersexuality-- A Template

After our unit on De/Meaning Sex and Gender, I knew I wanted to focus my web event on intersexuality. It’s a form of biological diversity of sex which most people don’t hear about until college, and many not even then.

So I started thinking—when would it make sense for students to first be introduced to intersexuality in an academic setting? I thought back to my own education in biology and the answer, to me, was middle school. In my middle school we had a unit in biology class which was basically “puberty education,” although I don’t remember what its official title was. We learned about the physical changes that male and female bodies go through in puberty—in other words, the changes our own bodies were going through right then. This would have been the perfect time to mention that not everyone would exactly fit into one pattern or another—that chromosomal sex, primary sex characteristics, and secondary sex characteristics don’t always match up. But this was never covered—not in middle school, high school or beyond.

I know that not everyone is given information about sex characteristics or the reproductive system in middle school, or even later. But to me the timing felt right.

I included the permission slip because I think that for many schools this would be part of the process of giving such a lecture.


Sample permission slip:

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Medical Authority in the Discourses of Disability and Transsexuality

Medical Authority in the Discourses of Disability and Transsexuality


Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation is an impossibly far-ranging book. Its author Eli Clare covers many topics that are entangled within his own life: tensions of class, sexuality, gender, abuse, disability, environmentalism and exile. Here I want to use his discussion of the medicalization of disability as a springboard to approach Rachel Ann Heath’s description of the pathologization of transsexuality in The Praeger Handbook of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset. Medicalization and pathologization are not precisely equivalent terms, but to me both represent a process of delegitimizing their subjects and placing this lost authority into the hands of medical professionals. Both produce negative or limiting effects that are not widely acknowledged. In addition, both are oriented towards “curing” or “normalizing” difference.


Exile and Pride: disability history

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Unseeing Gender

In class we started to discuss Wilchin's question (one of many): Why do a gender at all? However, we didn't get very far in our answer. I noticed that many of us were focusing on potential individual actions, and kept getting stuck on the fact that any of our actions, no matter how unique or transgressive, would inevitably be read through the “slits” of the gender binary. This seemed to mean that none of our actions could lead to the option to not do a gender at all.

Thinking about this topic later, I was struck by a huge misunderstanding in my approach to the question. I think the foundation of not “doing” a gender has nothing at all to do with individual actions, and everything to do with observation. To not “do” a gender, I don't have to change my way of behaving-- in fact, I could change my way of walking, my way of speaking, my way of dressing and it wouldn't make the slightest difference. To not do gender, and to allow others to not do gender, I have to change my way of seeing.

The issue of gender is fundamentally an issue of the observer. If none of us observed gender, it wouldn't exist. I look at the pink, dresses, dolls and lipstick and see symbols. After learning to instantaneously recognize and interpret these symbols, it's nearly impossible for me to step back and see only a color, a piece of fabric, a toy and a red paste. Trying to unsee gender is like looking at a typed page and trying to see abstract art instead of language. I'm not even sure that I can.

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